When Congress passed the long-promised Tax Cuts and Jobs Act late last year by a 51-49 vote, the reaction was swift. Just hours after the bill was signed into law by President Trump, companies from Alaska Airlines to Zions Bancorps announced one-time bonuses for all or qualifying employees.
Stephen Miller, of the Society for Human Resource Management, compiled a large list of the numerous employee benefits that companies need to address in order to comply with the new law. These changes will occur in benefits that cover commuting, paid leave, retirement plans, education savings plans, achievement awards, moving expenses, onsite gyms, meals and business expenses. Miller also pointed out that the new law limits the tax deductions that businesses can claim for certain employee benefits and suggests the changes may cause some employers to revisit their offerings.
Companies face decisions
An example of the choices companies will need to face in the future are exemplified by changes to the transit commuting deduction. While participating employees will still be able to use pre-tax dollars to pay for commuting benefits, those employers who pay for or subsidize their employees’ commuting expenses will no longer be able to claim this deduction. It is one of a number of choices employers will have to consider. Do they risk alienating employees by cutting a popular benefit or absorb the write-off costs to keep their train- and bus-using employees happy?
“On its own, eliminating the tax deduction for employers may seem like a disadvantage to offering these benefits, although some employers would still need to do so to stay competitive and to comply with state and local laws,” said Bobbi Kloss, HR leader at Benefit Advisors Network.
Paid leave option
The new tax bill adds a federal tax credit for employers that provides paid family and medical leave. According to Miller, by using the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers can claim a general business credit equal to a percentage of wages paid to employees who earn under $72,000 per year. Employers must “provide at least two weeks of leave and compensate their workers at a minimum of 50 percent of their regular earnings. The tax credit will range from 12.5 percent to 25 percent of the cost of each hour of paid leave,” wrote Miller.
As the new tax cuts become the norm rather than a novelty, employees will likely earmark that extra money to pay off credit card debt, save for a vacation, fund a long-awaited project in their house, or put it toward some other pragmatic solution. Employers would be wise to do the same. How today’s companies spend their new influx in revenue, whether it goes toward higher salaries, stockholder dividends, employee training, or research and development, could be a major factor in employee satisfaction and retention in the future.